The British Grand Prix from a tyre point of view
After three consecutive street circuits, Formula One returns to one of the most traditional permanent tracks of the year at Silverstone. For Pirelli, this can be considered a second home race, as the company’s motorsport hub is located in Didcot, only around an hour away.
During free practice on Friday, the teams will have the opportunity to test a new hard P Zero compound that is under development for the future. Pirelli tried out a number of experimental compounds during last year’s free practice sessions, but this is the first time that a new compound will have been tried during a race weekend in 2012.
The teams will each have two sets of the experimental hard tyre for the two Friday sessions in addition to their usual allocation, before reverting to the standard P Zero Silver hard compound and P Zero Yellow soft compound for the rest of the race weekend. Last year, the early stages of the British Grand Prix were affected by rain, so the Cinturato Green intermediate and Cinturato Blue wet will also be on standby.
As well as several high-speed corners that put plenty of lateral energy through the tyres, Silverstone is often characterized by a wide variety of climatic conditions over the race weekend, with ambient temperatures between 15 to 30 degrees centigrade possible. The track surface is also quite abrasive, which further increases tyre wear, while the tyre structure has to cope with extended periods when the cars are at top speed and full throttle.
Pirelli’s motorsport director says:
Paul Hembery: “Silverstone is one of the most iconic circuits on the Formula One calendar, precisely because it is so demanding for the drivers, cars and tyres. This is why we have chosen to test a new experimental hard compound here during free practice, which we may use in the future. The new tyre has a slightly wider working range, which should make it easier for the teams to get the tyres into the right operating temperature window. But with the championship so finely balanced, our priority is to ensure that no one team is handed any particular advantage. We want to keep the performance of the tyres at the highest level for as long as possible, so this is a valuable opportunity for ourselves and all the teams to gather more information about the potential effect of a new compound, and gain some data for the future. Silverstone is a very high-energy circuit that can see some unpredictable weather conditions, so a strong performance from the tyres and an effective strategy are vital ingredients in a successful race outcome.”
The men behind the steering wheel say:
Paul di Resta (Force India): “Silverstone is a great venue, my home race, and a place where you can really appreciate what a Formula One car is capable of, especially the aerodynamic grip and the change of direction. Everybody talks about the speed of Maggotts and Becketts because there really is nothing else like them on any other track in the world. When you’re running with low fuel on a qualifying lap with new tyres it gives you a real buzz, but you need to hook them up just right to get the lap time. I also enjoy the new section of the track and every year we go back there it gets better and better. The new layout has definitely created some more overtaking opportunities, especially with the introduction of DRS, and it’s great fun to drive, while being very demanding on the tyres at the same time.”
Pirelli’s test driver says:
Lucas di Grassi: “I drove the new Silverstone circuit at the 2010 British Grand Prix and it’s very interesting: high speed and high energy are the main characteristics, which has a big effect on the tyres because of all the aerodynamic grip. But traction is also tested a lot in the slower and more technical sections, particularly in terms of combined acceleration, when you are turning and accelerating at the same time. Hard and soft is a very good combination here, with the soft tyre definitely the one to qualify on. The biggest difficulty in terms of set-up is the unpredictability of the weather conditions, so you really have to focus on your car and collect as much information as you can during all the sessions. It’s still easy to get caught out by a set-up that isn’t perfectly suited to the conditions on race day though. I tested the experimental hard compound tyre in Jerez earlier this year: it’s a similar concept to the current hard but with improved combined grip and better wear. It’s particularly effective in warm weather and when the track conditions are poor – so you end up with a tyre that is quicker and lasts longer.”
Technical tyre notes:
• One of the fastest corners at Silverstone is Turn 9 (Copse) which the cars take at 290kph, generating a lateral force of 5g. The tyre tread temperature can exceed 110 degrees centigrade at this point, with good lateral grip being the key to quick lap.
• The track was partially resurfaced last year, when a new pit complex was added, but it remains quite bumpy. The teams generally run quite high downforce to ensure good aerodynamic grip but they have to adjust the suspension to take into account the bumps: many of which are absorbed by the tyres.
• Pirelli has never experienced a completely dry race at Silverstone or used the hard tyre in race conditions: last year all the cars started on the intermediate tyre, with the top five running similar three-stop strategies without using the hard tyre.